SOUTHAMPTON — It has been a long regular season, so what’s an extra inning or two?
A scheduled doubleheader of seven-inning games between the Riverhead Tomcats and the Southampton Breakers on Friday was not enough baseball. Extra innings were required.
The Breakers, facing a virtual must-sweep situation, did exactly that, taking both Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League games at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus, 3-1 and 2-1. The second game wasn’t decided until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Prateek Thaman followed up Scott Buckwalter’s leadoff single with a game-ending double.
The doubleheader carried significance for both teams.
Riverhead, which completed the regular season with a 20-21 record, needed to win at least one of the games in order to have a chance to host its Hampton Division semifinal this past Monday. Instead, the Tomcats had to hit the road for their playoff game against the Westhampton Aviators.
Meanwhile, the Breakers, who improved to 16-23 with the wins, were the more desperate of the two teams, fighting to squeeze into the playoffs. They did just that by sweeping a doubleheader from the North Fork Ospreys on Saturday, 4-0 and 6-5.
Tomcats Manager Randy Caden said playing the division semifinal on the road instead of at home “doesn’t make a difference.”
His right fielder, Tyler Brant, was of the same mind. “I don’t think it really matters,” Brant said. “It’s one game. You got to go, you got to win. It doesn’t matter what field you play at.”
The Breakers received fine pitching from both of their starters on Friday, Bo Budkevics and Mike Mandarino.
“They’ve been probably our two best pitchers all year, and they did the job when it counted,” said Breakers Manager Rob Cafiero.
Mandarino went the full distance in the nightcap, striking out nine, scattering nine hits and walking four.
Riverhead’s starter, Chris Pabisch, and Mandarino were involved in a scoreless pitching duel until the Tomcats got on the scoreboard for a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth. Stephen Oswald nailed a lined shot to left-center field, scoring Eric Romano. Kevin Needham had led off the inning with a ground-rule double that bounced over the right-field fence. He missed a home run by a few feet. Then Romano laid down a bunt that Mandarino fielded before wheeling and throwing to third baseman Jackson Shaver to get Needham out at third.
Riverhead’s 1-0 lead lasted for only two at-bats. In the bottom half of the inning, Rob La Russo crushed a pitch for a home run over left field, his third long ball of the season.
La Russo, who missed the first one-third of the season because of a battle with mononucleosis, had a productive day, going 3 for 6 with two runs batted in.
“We all stayed calm and just got the job done,” La Russo said. “We got the spontaneous hitting when we needed it.”
The Breakers rode the pitching of Budkevics in the first game. Budkevics tossed six shutout innings, giving up four hits.
La Russo figured prominently in Southampton’s first two runs.
The Breakers, playing as the visiting team in the opener, struck first in the top of the first. After Joey Novak fanned the first two batters, Mandarino sent a soft liner to left field. He scored when the next batter, La Russo, doubled to left.
A throwing error opened the door to Southampton’s second run in the fourth. La Russo, who reached base on the error, later scored after doing his best to screen third baseman Eric Schlitter on a chopper hit by Andrew Steinberg. The ball glanced off Schlitter’s glove and La Russo charged home.
The Breakers made it 3-0 in the fifth when Tommy Corbin delivered a two-out single, scoring Robb Scott from second base.
A.J. Talt closed out the game in the seventh, not without some work, though. Oswald’s second single of the game put him on base. He scored Riverhead’s only run on a fielder’s choice by Brant.
Novak was the losing pitcher. It was a harsh decision, considering he gave up two earned runs over six innings. He struck out seven, allowed six hits and walked three.
The Breakers were trying to put a memorable ending to a regular season that has had some rocky moments.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and we’re finishing the season pretty solid now,” Cafiero said. “It’s giving ourselves a chance to get in the playoffs. We hit a couple of bumps in the road in the middle of the season, early in the season, but we’re starting to put it together now.”